The number of U.S. consumers who filed for bankruptcy in 2010 topped 1.5 million last year, up 9% compared with 2009 as high long-term jobless rates and depressed home prices drove more households to seek court protection, according to both the American Bankruptcy Institute (ABI) and the National Bankruptcy Research Center.

Personal bankruptcies rose to 1.53 million. The number of filings has increased each year since 2005, when bankruptcy laws were revamped. Last year's number far exceeds the 1,407,788 total consumer filings recorded in 2009, a trend that the ABI attributes to growing debt and a weakened economy. ABI is an association of attorneys and other bankruptcy professionals.

“The steady climb of consumer filings notwithstanding the 2005 bankruptcy law restrictions demonstrate that families continue to turn to bankruptcy as a result of high debt burdens and stagnant income growth,” ABI Executive Director Samuel Gerdano said in a statement.

December was a particularly troublesome month for consumers, with 118,146 total filings, an increase of 3% over November’s figure. A few Southwestern states accounted for much of the uptick in filings. In California, bankruptcies were up 25% from a year earlier. In Arizona, they rose nearly 24%. Conditions have improved in the Southeast, with filings dropping last year in Tennessee, South Carolina and Alabama.

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